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Lucasfilm’s Star Wars Rebels panel at New York Comic Con revealed new details about the upcoming animated show, which debuts in Fall 2014. The series takes place between the events of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: A New Hope, offering fans a look at the origins of the fledgling Rebel Alliance.
Led by sole panel member and Lucasfilm’s resident Star Wars expert Pablo Hidalgo, the proceedings kicked off with a quick video message from Rebels executive producer Dave Filoni, who informed the audience that the show would be sticking very closely to legendary designer Ralph McQuarrie’s Star Wars concept art. The crowd exploded into cheers at the mere mention of McQuarrie’s name.
After the short video, Hidalgo revealed that Rebels will debut as an hour-long special on the Disney Channel in fall 2014 before moving to its regular home on Disney XD for the rest of the series’ run.
Hidalgo told the crowd he didn’t have any animation to share since the production team “were only just beginning the animation process.” He then played another brief video message from executive producers Greg Weisman and Filoni, who both apologized for being unable to attend the convention in person.
Hidalgo continued the apologies, saying that Simon Kinberg, the series’ third executive producer, was unable to even make a video apology for not being there. Hidalgo said Kinberg was currently busy working on Rebels, Star Wars: Episode 7, X-Men: Days of Future Past and his own solo Star Wars spin-off film.
Rebels is designed to be a different show from previous animated endeavors. “I’d say the difference comes from it being a different show, but not necessarily where it’s airing,” Hidalgo said, saying that the move from Cartoon Network to Disney XD is inconsequential as far as the series’ content is concerned. “The biggest difference for us right now is time. This show is being done on a much quicker pace than Clone Wars was.”
Hidalgo showed off a piece of Star Wars concept art McQuarrie did in 1980. It featured a vast field with odd, cylindrical mountains springing up out of the grass. “He was responsible for defining the look and feel of those [original] three movies,” Hidalgo said. “This is one of the key pieces of concept art that really kicked off Rebels… The idea at that point in the story was that the Rebel Alliance would have a base on this grassland planet… Obviously, that didn’t come to be but Ralph generated a lot of art for it. Designs that never made it on the screen. The extended universe actually used this as a starting point for what they thought Alderaan might look like in one of those coffee table books in the ’90s. But as Episode III showed, Alderaan doesn’t look like this, which freed up the art for our exploration.”
Hidalgo showed another McQuarrie piece featuring giant antenna towers shooting out of another grassland setting. Hidalgo described the style as “magical realism.” A painting by Filoni combined both of the previous images into a single painting, with TIE Fighters thrown in for good measure. This image served as some of their initial inspiration for Rebels.
The main ship in Rebels is the Ghost, a light freighter with a similar look and feel to the classic Millennium Falcon, with a cockpit inspired by a WW2 B-17 bomber. Hidalgo said, “It’s got a few surprises of it’s own, too.”
While one fan speculated that “Ghost” was too generic a name for such an important ship, Hidalgo assured the audience that the Ghost’s pilot named it for “a very good reason.”
Conversation then turned towards the main focus of the afternoon: the villains. “Today we’re not gonna talk about the Ghost,” Hidalgo said. “We’re not even gonna talk about the rebels that give the show it’s name. Today we’re going to take a look at the opposition, the bad guys. Today we’re taking a look at the Empire.”
Rebels takes place 14 years after Revenge of the Sith and about 5 years before A New Hope begins. “For most of the former Republic, the Empire was a welcome change from the chaos of the Clone Wars… People wanted stability and security no matter the cost.”
Rebels is set in the outer rim of the galaxy on a frontier world called Lothal. “When the Empire moves into the frontier and decides it wants a planet and it wants that planet to be Imperial, it doesn’t do what we assume it would do,” Hidalgo said. “It doesn’t invade full-force. The Empire doesn’t have the resources to invade every planet it wants to control. So the ideal situation, if a planet has a civilization, is they go in and make sure that planet’s civilization, and Lothal has one, is loyal to the Empire.”
The Empire accomplishes this by first helping to develop the impoverished world, bringing jobs, industry and wealth. However, the Empire’s imposed taxes soon move from reasonable to “unreasonable, then difficult, then crushing.”
“It becomes pretty apparent that the Empire does not have Lothal’s best interests in mind,” Hidalgo said. “That honeymoon period doesn’t last. That allows people with rebellious thoughts to emerge.”
Hidalgo showed recruitment posters that might hang in Lothal encouraging citizens to join the Stormtrooper or TIE Fighter pilot academies.
Rebels will also end the debate over whether all Stormtroopers are Clone troopers. “Clone troopers basically stopped production,” Hidalgo said. “Stormtroopers are anyone, like you or me. They’re citizens that volunteer. It’s an interesting contrast because the lab-grown Clone troopers exhibited too much individuality to be of use to the Empire. They can actually find better uniformity in fervent patriots who volunteer for service.”
Now that Stormtroopers are entering the picture, the future of the Clone troopers is somewhat uncertain. “Even though the cloning operations as we know them from the Clone Wars have stopped, those Clone troopers are still around and they’re aging twice as fast as everyone,” Hidalgo said. “Some of them still believe in what they know and have gone on to become trainers of Stormtroopers, while others have become discarded by a society that never really appreciated them to begin with.”
Speaking of Clone troopers, the audience was naturally curious about the status of their favorite Clone Wars characters. Hidalgo was relatively tight-lipped, but gave the fans a bit of hope, saying there is “a lot of interest” in possibly bringing some of the characters over into Rebels. Finished Clone Wars episodes will air in early 2014.
The panel also covered some of the Imperial vehicles developed for the show, including the AT-DP: a bipedal assault vehicle that resembles a smaller, nimbler version of the classic AT-ST from Return of the Jedi.
The Imperial Troop Transport, which originally debuted as a toy produced by Kenner in the ’80s, makes its first appearance in a Star Wars film or TV show for Rebels. Hidalgo pulled out a boxed Imperial Troop Transport and opened it to show the crowd the toy inside. He made sure to clarify that “this was not sacrilege; this was open before I got here!… If there was ever any doubt that there are old-school fans working on the show, just look at this Kenner goodness.”
An earlier version of the TIE Fighter will also be present on the show, forcing the animators to answer a question that has plagued fans for years: How do TIE Fighter pilots enter the ship? When looking at the original designs by McQuarrie, the production team discovered that pilots were meant to enter from the back. However, because the inside of Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter and the inside of a regular TIE Fighter were identical in the films, the animators decided to make all TIE Fighter pilots enter their ships from the top, regardless of class.
The Imperial Freighter is an assault ship that has racks to hold TIE Fighters underneath its wings. Hidalgo said, “The TIE Fighter is a short-range ship, it doesn’t have hyper-drives, so it needs a ship like this.”
The main villain of Rebels is the Empire’s Inquisitor, a thin, pale Sith that wields a double-bladed light-saber. He is tasked by Darth Vader to hunt down the remaining Jedi Knights — but Hidalgo was cagy about any possible lightsaber battles.
“You can reason from the fact that there is [a lightsaber] in the series that the Empire has reason to believe that a Jedi is alive somewhere,” he said.
While the panel spent a great deal of time going into detail about the Empire’s presence in “Rebels,” the show will also feature some bounty hunters. “The underworld influence is strong in the series,” Hidalgo said. “There are characters of that type that will show up, yes.”
Be careful about getting attached to any one character during the course of Rebels — killing them off isn’t entirely off the table.
“It’s a war,” said Hidalgo. “I’ll say our touch point for the tone of the show is Episode IV. It has great adventure, great banter, and moments of absolute fun, but the villains are villains and we see them do villainous things. We’re cognizant of that as we do Rebels.”